Government ministers have been testing a 'virtual' version of the 'Red Box' - the ministerial brief case which traditionally contains all the minister's confidential papers. The software is expected to be final and installed on all ministerial laptops by the end of the year.
Using sophisticated layers of security protection, which are being validated by the Internet security department at GCHQ, the system will also be offered to industry, for use by senior executives who also need secure laptops.
Dr Alan Rushworth of Rhea International, the firm that helped to design the security systems, told ZDNet News that "the initial feedback was that ministers wanted something slimmer and more streamlined that they could carry in a brief case with other papers". This is why the current prototype is an entirely software-based system that can be installed on any laptop.
"The danger with any system is that if it is lost or stolen that the thief will then have an infinite amount of time to break into it...possibly dismantling it and running the disk in another system", said Rushworth. But even in this scenario the Virtual Red Box software is designed to protect the confidential data. "It would take 50 years to crack our encryption using the most powerful computers"...by this time "the data is timed out".
Rushworth believes that Virtual Red Box will appeal to CEO's of large corporations as well as politicians. "Laptops are now stolen to order"..."We know of one CEO of a top international firm who had his laptop stolen at an airport in a sophisticated switch scam - whilst he was queuing to go through the scanning equipment."
As well as giving ministers access to the secure government intranet when they are in their constituencies, it is hoped that Virtual Red Box will enable savings, as ministers will no longer need to be accompanied or driven whenever they need to take confidential 'Red Box' papers home with them .